Entrepreneurship: five macho myths debunked

By  Linda Rottenberg, Guardian Professional
British entrepreneur Sir Richard BransonEntrepreneur adviser and author Linda Rottenberg explains which rules you should break when starting a business
When I started helping entrepreneurs 20 years ago, few people used the word entrepreneur. Today, everyone wants to be entrepreneurial, whether you’re a retiree starting a B&B, a manager in a FTSE 100 company, or a working parent improving your neighbourhood.
Even Mattel has an entrepreneur Barbie.
Everyone has a dream, but most people are either too afraid to get going or get started and then get stuck. I help dreamers get unstuck. In two decades I’ve mentored 1,000 entrepreneurs, who this year will generate more than $7bn in revenues. In my new book, Crazy Is a Compliment, I’ve put together a roadmap to help.
One problem: entrepreneurship, like business in general, is plagued by stereotypes from the old boys’ network. Here is the truth behind five macho myths.
1. You don’t need a hoodie to be an entrepreneur
Macho myth: entrepreneurship is only for young boys in hoodies
Mary Jo Cook and Suzanne Sengelmann were two working mothers at risk-averse Clorox, when they heard from fellow parents that they wanted eco-friendly cleaners. The two began a stealth project in their kitchen and eventually launched a successful green product line. All the hype around Silicon Valley has left a false impression: You don’t need to be young, male or wear a hoodie to be an entrepreneur. The fastest-growing groups starting businesses are women and baby boomers over 55. Even if you work inside a company you need the entrepreneurial skillset to get ahead. These days everyone needs to take some risk or risk being left behind.
2. Crazy is a compliment
Macho myth: don’t rock the boat
If you plan to try something new, you should expect to be called nuts. You can’t rock the boat without being told you’re off your rocker. Henry Ford was called “crazy Henry”, Jack Ma, who recently took Alibaba public, was called “crazy Jack”. That also goes for those making change inside companies, like the team at Microsoft behind Xbox, which colleagues dismissed as “coffin box.” The biggest barriers to change are not financial, they’re psychological. You have to give yourself permission to be contrarian, to zig when everyone else zags. I was called “la Chica Loca” when I launched an organisation for entrepreneurs, so I made it my motto: “Crazy is a compliment.” If you’re not called crazy, then you’re not thinking big enough.
3. Don’t bet the farm
Macho myth: the best entrepreneurs go all in
Ray Kroc, the legendary chief executive officer of McDonald’s, captured this macho myth well: “If you’re not a risk taker, you should get the hell out of business.” Well, boys will be boys, but entrepreneurs will be savvy. Talk to actual entrepreneurs and the story around risk is quite different. Most are risk minimisers, not risk maximisers. Even a maverick such as Richard Branson says the goal is “contained disasters”. Half of the Inc 500 companies were launched with $5,000 or less. Many innovators keep their day jobs until their ideas take off: Sara Blakely of Spanx sold fax machines for two years, and Phil Knight of Nike (the Just Do It! guy) spent nearly a decade doing other people’s taxes. The bottom line: don’t bet the farm; wager a few chickens instead.
4. Be flawsome
Macho myth: always project strength
Leave the marble and the bronze for the Caesars and the Pattons. Today’s leaders need more emotional breadth: less super, more human. I learned this the hard way. For years I tried to model those marbled leaders: touting my organisation’s accomplishments, demonstrating invincibility. But after my husband received a cancer diagnosis when our twin daughters were three, I could no longer pretend. I admited weakness, I asked for help, I even cried in front of my team. And I quickly discovered what researchers have now proven: powerful communicators put people off with their superhuman qualities; powerless ones draw others in with their imperfections and self-awareness. Forget trying to be awesome all the time. Be flawsome.
5. Go big and go home
Macho myth: you cannot integrate work and family
Entrepreneurs tend to be workaholics. I know, because I was one. “Go big or go home!” But that’s a horrible way to live and a worse way to keep talent.>>>


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